My Son Will Not Read Books ‘For Girls’ — Because They Don’t Exist
By Alicia McAuley
Photo © darby/Twenty20
Aug 9, 2018
It all started with Doc McStuffins.
After watching a few episodes of the popular Disney cartoon, my four-year-old kindergartener was a fan. So it wasn’t altogether surprising when he came home from school one afternoon and produced a Doc McStuffins book that he’d selected from the library earlier that day from his backpack.
Now, as someone who often writes about children’s books, it’s likely no surprise that I also spend a great deal of time reading them with my kids. So when my son brings home a book for us to share on library day, it’s usually met with a lot of excitement. But on this day, something was different.
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“Great choice!” I’d said, happy to see that he was branching out from stories about trucks and trying something new. He hesitated. “My friend at school made fun of my book,” he said, looking down at the paperback in his hands, and then up at me. “He said it’s a girl book. It’s just for girls.”
Oof. Didn’t see that one coming. Kindergarten is rough sometimes.
“I see,” I began cautiously, not wanting to launch into a full TED Talk about stereotyping and gender norms while dishing out crackers and string cheese. “And what do you think?”
'The cool thing about books is that they’re for everyone. There’s no such thing as a book that’s just for boys, or a book that’s just for girls. Books are just books, for anyone who wants to read them.'
“Well,” I began again, “do you like Doc McStuffins?” He nodded. “And do you want to read that book?” He nodded again. I handed over his after-school snack and asked, “Do you think there are books in our house that are only for boys to read?” He thought about it for a second, glancing over at our bookshelf packed with titles about everything from learning the alphabet to driving a Zamboni. He munched on a cracker. “No,” he said, “I don’t think so.” “I think you’re right,” I said. “The cool thing about books is that they’re for everyone. There’s no such thing as a book that’s just for boys, or a book that’s just for girls. Books are just books, for anyone who wants to read them.”
Satisfied with that answer, he settled in on the couch with his snack, ready for the story to begin.
That night, I scanned the bookshelf in our living room. My eyes fell on the first book that I ever bought for my son: Lost and Found, by Oliver Jeffers. It begins, simply enough, with the words “Once there was a boy.” I’d stumbled upon it at a bookstore the day after I found out I was going to have a baby boy, and couldn’t resist. “Once there was a boy.” It made me smile. Maybe one day he’d imagine that it was a story just for him — his story, his adventure.
Over the years, that first book has grown into a much larger — and more diverse — library. While there are other books about little boys and big adventures, not every book is about a boy, and not every boy in a book looks like him.
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Our library includes stories by Indigenous authors, stories starring strong girls and stories with families in all different forms. It includes books about sharing, mindfulness and some that make us laugh out loud. There are books about animals and books about people. There are books that are completely whimsical, and others that are very factual. Our library is as wonderful and diverse as the world that my son is growing up in, and it is my great hope that these books will help to develop his sense of imagination, curiosity and empathy. But there are no books that are just for boys. And there are no books that are just for girls. There are only books, waiting to be discovered and explored by anyone who wants to read them.
When library day rolled around the following week, I wondered if my son would second-guess his choice when it came time to pick a book, and hoped that he wouldn’t be subject to criticism this time around. When he got home, his usual library day excitement had returned, and he couldn’t wait to dig into his backpack to show me the cool new book he’d chosen for us. “Mummy, look! It’s Wonder Woman!” he said. “Now that’s a great choice,” I replied. No TED Talk required.